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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Once You Pop, That's Great!

The pace of new releases right now across tabletop categories is such an overloaded blast that it can only be properly depicted by the Whaaargarbl Sprinkler Dog:
We can't keep up with this.  There are not enough gamer dollars out there to ingest all this content.  There is so much that the top gamers in my player community, the guys who jump onto each new game system with top enthusiasm, are tapping out and abandoning ongoing games, and largely shrugging at new ones.  The top fervor I get for new titles on the rack is when the reseller scrappers show up because that title has already sold out online and they know they can flip it at a profit.

I talked about this a few months ago and concluded that despite the content quality being very high right now, we were headed for an analogue of the 1983 video game industry crash.  This bubble was bound to pop.  Well, it's happening.  Maybe people should heed my warnings instead of brushing them off.

The mass market, which pushed so hard to bring about this torrid pace of releases, is learning something the game trade knew all along: by mass market standards, these things don't turn worth a damn.  They're fine for small specialty retail, which can survive and even thrive on a turn figure between 3.2 and 3.8 per annum.  But mass sets a base standard of 12.  If it doesn't turn over monthly, clear the rack.  And the bloodbath has ensued.  Among others:

Barnes and Noble is tapping out.

Gamestop is tapping out.  Maybe.

Walgreens is tapping out.

Target kind of tapped out after their "all these exclusives" plan last year, with Oregon Trail and Dirty Codenames and Machi Koro Nights and so on.  They'll retain Cards Against Humanity (or Prongles or whatever it is now, see also title of this article) and Hasbro mainstream stuff, and a few sacrificial lambs to be able to say they have hobby games.  But they won't really.

Pardon the use of Reddit for links on those; much of the circulating news about those clearances was via social media that is not readily linkable.

The DSG plan to ride all this out?  Lean on our pawnshop business, of course.  Ain't no such thing as a new release when all the merch is used.

I wonder what will happen once the bubble has popped and things contract back to reality.  Will some of these amazing games finally have room to breathe?  Will I get to enjoy like three years of data packs from Android: Netrunner?  Will HeroClix v2.0 with its streamlined rule set finally start gathering momentum again?  And wow, what about Magic: the Gathering, which has had enough content to hold player interest for ten years released in roughly the space of two years?

You know what?  It's going to be miserable and lose a lot of people money, but maybe this is for the best.  Content is eternal and good content will still be around for us to partake of it later.  The mass market is Leviathan, and perhaps that tortuous serpent will finally starve out and seek waters better suited to its gluttony.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Four Days of Extremes

Thanksgiving weekend 2017 brought a great high and a troubling low.  I wanted to touch upon a little bit of each.

Black Friday set a new record for us, while not quite hitting the target I had hoped for.  Pretty greedy, right?  Sure, it was the best Black Friday yet, but what have you done for me lately.

At ground level, though, BF's robust sales and great footfall happened despite what we failed to do in preparation.  We really just ran out of time.  With the aftershock move of our Tempe store to Chandler and so much else going on, I didn't spend enough time in advance ordering up targeted inventory for the event, and I didn't have enough time to devise a promotional framework that would better straddle the various departments and reach more products, while still providing healthy returns and not training people to "shop the sale."  A week or so out, I realized I had time to set this much up, and so I wrote it all down and did a bunch of setup myself and delegated the rest.

The promotional "deals" we offered by and large worked. (I'm not a fan of the way "deals" has become a euphemism for "offers" or "sale prices," but that is the apparently the parlance of our time in advertising right now.)  This suggests that given enough time to tie in product groups, simplify, then expand to other groups, then consolidate and simplify, etc, ultimately encompassing a storewide promotion, we should see greater sales still next year.

Small Business Saturday was meh and Whatever Sunday Is Called was decent, outperforming the expectation.  Yesterday was even good, a rare robust Monday thanks to a blast of online sales and higher-than-expected early-day visits.  We expect to see a quieting now, a calm before the storm.  Somewhere around December 9th, the light switch will go on and it will be bananas until Saturday the 23rd, and then from the 26th well into January.

Alas, the holiday weekend was marred by the announcement that the expert and famous cosplayer Christine Sprankle (@Cspranklerun), was departing the Magic community after enduring bullying and harassment by a certain YouTube personality whose name I won't mention and I'll explain why in a moment.  For ease of reference, I will refer to him as Offender.  The specifics of Offender's actions in this matter are well established elsewhere, and I won't revisit them here.

For those of you unfamiliar with the scene and the practice, cosplaying is far more than merely dressing in a costume and schmoozing around.  Expert cosplayers typically create their wardrobe from scratch, or nearly so, and put tremendous time and resources into this process.  The greatest degree of verisimilitude is their triumph and their prestige.  And Cspranklerun is the best in the Magic: the Gathering scene.  The world of MTG provides a rich assortment of characters, and her performances of e.g. Chandra Nalaar, Liliana Vess, Olivia Voldaren, and Archangel Avacyn are the gold standard now.

I have encountered Ms. Sprankle several times at industry events and she has always been friendly and gracious to me and everyone who I've accompanied, and conducts herself as a consummate professional.  Her tormentor, Offender, is someone whom I cannot say the same about.

It's easy to look at Offender and say, oh, he's a typical chauvinist, or a typical alt-right agitator, or a typical bully, or whatever label seems to fit.  But to label him and direct ire toward him or even retaliate against him is to miss the point.  Offender runs a clickbait YouTube channel.  He doesn't have to be right, he doesn't have to be sensible, he doesn't have to make you agree, and he doesn't have to make you disagree.  He only has to make you watch.  He is in the attention prostitution business.

Like Neil Peart famously said, "I don't believe a prostitute is an evil thing."  But recognize what a prostitute is, and what it wants.  A prostitute engages in behavior that elicits compensation from an audience.  Literally, the euphemism of whoring reflects the reality that any given prostitute may not consider any particular behavior off-limits, no matter whether it might be socially questionable, if the result is that the whore gets paid.  If Offender's whoring is for attention, any attention you provide to him is giving him what he wants.  Controversy sells.  Bait draws clicks.  Views draw dollars.  There's no such thing as "bad" publicity.  And this is how Offender stays in "business," as he is a Patreon-based "content creator."  When you tune in, Offender wins.

The best and greatest punishment the community can inflict upon Offender is to ignore him evermore.

Don't watch his videos.  Don't read anything he writes.  Block him on whatever social media you can.  Don't mention him, don't acknowledge him.  Shun him utterly.

Come on, people.  We can do this.

Meanwhile it would probably help if Wizards of the Coast banned him or something.  Lord knows they've banned others for less, in some cases questionably so.  They had not made a statement as of the night before this article went live, but I am reasonably confident they will, and that any delay is/was simply a matter of the appropriate staff needing time to meet and deliberate on the matter.

And then I hope Cspranklerun will return and I hope everyone who enjoys her cosplay performances at the various conventions, events, and tournaments will provide a heartfelt word of appreciation to her.  Even people who know they have friends and allies can feel awfully alone in the moment when a bully or harasser is doing their worst.  I'd like for those on the receiving end of such abuse to have more confidence that the rest of us are there to back them up.  The only way that's going to happen is if we demonstrate it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Seasons Calendar Greetings

So, in addition to the spurts and stops of intense sales activity this time of year, we also have to deal with the effects the calendar has on when our staff works, when our shipments arrive, and when our money moves.  Back in 2012 and 2013, it made for some stressful experiences, but by now I know what's coming and I can plan it pretty far out to ensure business as usual.
The Thanksgiving Holiday week (in the United States) brings with it a Thursday in which nobody at DSG is realistically expected to be open or be working.  Some stores do offer gatherings of a sort, which I think is cool because it reaches that part of their clientele who maybe don't have family (or locally reachable family) with which to spend the holiday.  In our case we just close and give everyone the day off.  Salaried employees have a couple of hours bolted on to other days just to ensure we don't suffer for task completion, but are otherwise on paid vacation for the day; part-timers simply aren't scheduled for that day.

Moreover, the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, is a day when many businesses are closed and retail stores are open.  We know on the front end that it's a shopping day, but on the back end we see a variety of on- and off-duty vendors.  The mail does get delivered and banking occurs normally.  Our distributors are mostly closed.  UPS and FedEx deliver but most things we need for that day will be ordered the week before, so that they will arrive in the short week leading into the holiday.

Oh, and Veterans Day tends to create a day's unusualness, but since it's a single-day holiday and usually doesn't change much about business activity, I don't have to do very much to "prepare" for it.  It's not an entire weekend, effectively, deeply shared as time off by the majority of American society that does not work in the retail or hospitality sectors or in emergency services.  So there's not a whole lot of accommodation needed.

Thanksgiving's saving grace in terms of preparation (since it already has the great saving grace that the Fri-Sat-Sun frame tends to be pretty good for sales) is that it happens the same way every year.  The dates change but the days stay the same.  The opposite is true of the Christmas holiday, for which the dates stay the same and thus the days change.

This year is an arrangement I love: Christmas Eve on Sunday, Christmas Day on Monday.  For the first time since the store opened in 2012, I feel at liberty to go ahead and close on Christmas Eve and give the entire crew two straight days off.  Saturday the 23rd before that should be a record-breaking sales day, and I will go out of my way to get as much awesome stuff prepped and presented on time for that, but we're usually closed early on Sunday evenings anyway, and every Christmas Eve thus far has seen customer foot traffic taper off dramatically in the evening.  In essence, I don't see us losing much in the way of sales, and the value of having the recharge time for everybody gets much higher.

Best of all, with the Sunday-Monday cadence of this year's Christmas holiday, I don't really have to do any hocus-pocus in terms of ordering, shipping, mailing, banking, or any of that.  And the day after Christmas, Tuesday the 26th, should be a glorious party of youngsters indulging in their greatest material desires, funded by that sweet, sweet Grandma money.  The week before, my orders will go in on Monday and arrive Wednesday and Thursday and our TCGPlayer shipments will go out the same as they ever do.  Aside from what I hope will be overwhelming customer traffic, my crew will not be doing anything unusual mechanically where their schedules are concerned.  After Christmas I can blast in my orders to a rack of distributors who will be fully at battle stations, and have them by the end of the week.  A lot of us get healthy that week, though aside from normal sales I will have a lot of tax preparation to do, activities that need to get paid out and ledgered before the clock strikes zero on the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seventeen.

New Year's Eve is also a Sunday and we've always seen customer footfall basically end at rush hour on that day.  Rather than closing for the day, I'm inclined to staff light and keep the 10am-6pm regular hours, with projects on deck and general cleaning and straightening up to occupy the staff time.  New Year's Day is open for business of course and is usually very good.  A lot of people, whether workers or students, are off and ready to play some games.  And we'll be ready for their arrivals.

Whatever you are doing this coming weekend, whether it's with family, friends, or enjoying the solitude, stay safe, stay warm, stay healthy, and have fun!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Tyranny of the Necessary

Thing I am doing: Spot duty putting out daily fires, many of them caused by incomplete infrastructure as a result of the move.
Thing I would rather be doing: Leaving daily operations in the hands of my store managers, knowing the infrastructure was built and the store was at cruising altitude.

Thing I am doing: Physically lugging assets from the closed Tempe location to Chandler.
Thing I would rather be doing: Developing Chandler's infrastructure.

Thing I am doing: Patchwork to keep our Crystal Commerce deployment effective.
Thing I would rather be doing: Moving in-store sales to the Square Retail POS.

Thing I am doing: Triaging video game buys for deployment to the racks.
Thing I would rather be doing: Finishing the new process for shelf proxies and rack layout so that the staff can quickly and easily triage video game buys for deployment to the racks.

Thing I am doing: Swimming through admin every week to navigate and maintenance all the financial moves we made to make the store move happen in one piece.
Thing I would rather be doing: Looking for great new items I can bring in that will amuse and delight the store's visitors.

Thing I am doing: Ongoing buildout iteration and refinement.
Thing I would rather be doing: Ongoing process iteration and refinement.

Thing I am doing: Performing life support on underperforming categories.
Thing I would rather be doing: Developing new revenue streams like cell phone screen replacement, video game console repair, category adds like brick toys and children's games, disc media restoration using our awesome commercial-grade resurfacing machine, and event broadcasting and media compilation.

Thing I am doing: Learning, slowly and inefficiently, how to use the tools to create awesome graphic art assets for the business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Deploying awesome graphic art assets for the business, for uses such as signage, branding media, and wider channels of advertisement.

Thing I am doing: Spending late nights putting in pre-orders on distributor websites and answering emails I was too busy to deal with during the day.
Thing I would rather be doing: Sleeping.

Thing I am doing: Making sure that it continues to be possible for people to play games at the store.
Thing I would rather be doing: Actually playing a game once in a while.

Thing I am doing: Working in the business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Working on the business.

Thing I am doing: Administering a retail business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Writing epic adventure stories.

Thing I am doing: Working long hours to ensure the future of the business.
Thing I would rather be doing: Spending time with my wife and kids.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


I left an uneaten sandwich on the back table at the store when I closed up.

The console controllers I bought just before closing still have those corroded batteries in them.

I left the door to the refrigerator open at the store when I closed up.

There is a $7,000 order coming in and I only have one person on shift in the morning to process it.

I left my workstation iMac unlocked and all of creation can get into the staff payroll records.

I forgot to sanction the next whatever the hell it is this time in Wizards Event Reporter.

There are new releases streeting tomorrow that I forgot to prepare the pickup invoices for pre-orders.

I left the "OPEN" sign on when I closed.  There are hooligans outside pounding on the door.

I left the door to the safe open at the store when I closed up.

There is a $7,000 autotap going through at midnight and I forgot to move funds from the operating account to the purchasing account.

I left the lights on when I closed up.  There are hooligans outside vandalizing the windows.

Wizards of the Coast just banned the card I bought six playsets of yesterday.  Its market price fell from $38.50 apiece to $2.75 apiece.  Nobody plays it in eternal formats.

There is a $7,000 ceiling job being done at six in the morning tomorrow and I forgot to have someone on site to let the contractors in.

I left the door unlocked at the store when I closed up.

There are hooligans entering my store.

I forgot to arm the alarm when I closed up.

There are hooligans eating my sandwich and drinking my beverages, but they have left the refrigerator door open.

The safe is wide open so hooligans took all my cash.

There are hooligans destroying my store while I sleep.

There are hooligans stoically guarding the storefront while patient, systematic friends of theirs are carefully parsing through my inventory and stealing the most valuable Magic cards and video games that I will have the most difficulty establishing the market value of, while inflicting damage on my fixtures and equipment approximately equal to my insurance deductible, and leaving carefully and quietly so as not to attract police attention.

/rush into den, log in to surveillance system

//there is nothing happening at the store

///all is dark and peaceful

////I sleep well

/////It's a brand new day

//////Time to get in there and make stuff happennnNNNOHMYGOD! That autotap DID try to go through and I didn't move those funds!  AAARGH CARDIAC ARREST

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Back to One

Happy Halloween everyone!  The end of October also marked the end of my Tempe location, so for the time being, the new store at 3875 West Ray Road in Chandler is the one and only Desert Sky Games.  Our game room is open, it's gigantic, and its capacity is continuing to increase as we bring in equipment and assets from Tempe and deploy out our rack and fixture.

The effort to build a regional empire that I described last year around this time, and then revised, and then revised again, has finally coalesced into the establishment of One Big Hub Store, which was really a prerequisite to the model I wanted moving forward.  Spokes/branches don't work unless a hub serves them, there are underlying logistics that are mostly transparent to the end user but we did not have them in place and could not have them in place for as long as the Tempe location was configured like a hub, but was not situated adequately to do business as a hub.  Now that the far larger Chandler store is unambiguously the one and only company HQ, branch locations may follow for the low price of buildout and equipment.  Look for our first in the spring, unless we decide to hold off a bit longer and lay in reserves.

Note that the business name no longer includes "and Comics."  Comics are still happening here, though.  I've been asked a couple of times whether that meant we had shed the category.  While I think that's coming at some point, it's not happening yet.  "Desert Sky Games and Comics" was just a really cumbersome and inelegant brand representation, and I saw plenty of industry stores doing dependable business in comics without bolting on the word, such as Millennium Games, Madness Games, Nerdvana, et al.  "DSG" needed to stay lean and mean in the market mindspace.

They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression.  In case anyone reading thought that was only a canard, let me tell you, it's proving more and more real every day.  From day one, DSG Chandler's shelf presence was strongest in TCGs, board games, and miniatures.  We have the video games out but not really set up like we want.  RPGs, comics, and other subcategories are only partly set.  Lo and behold, sales of TCGs, board games, and miniatures far and away lead the pack.

I don't think there is a tremendous market difference between Gilbert and Chandler.  What I think is that Gilbert spent 2012 and 2013 sucking at board games, so the customer public knew to disregard us to some extent.  We ramped it up in 2014 and 2015, but in addition to fighting against our own prior poor impression, the board game market itself went into some upheaval during that time, which I've chronicled extensively on this weblog.  In 2016 I was ready to be out of the category, despite being a board game player myself.  I had a category I loved that didn't love me back.

But as of 2017 we saw some of that work begin to bear fruit.  We started to focus on finding key titles and getting in deep in advance, sticking with protected brands, keeping mainstream-accessible low-price titles available, and like such.  In May and June, we ran a moving sale culling everything that wasn't the latest and greatest; we knew the rebuild would bring back anything that was still relevant.  And then with the move to Chandler, we had a chance to fix that brand impression.  The result has been a board game category that consistently finishes in the top 5 every day, rather than almost never doing so.

It isn't the answer to all things, not by a long shot.  Any category whose buyers were truly as fickle as that would not be worth catering to.  What I hoped to do, and appear to have done, was to be positioned as a legitimate source that people will check first, or almost first.  As long as some number of them do so sometimes, that should suffice to drive core sales in the category and present a dependable day-to-day revenue figure.  My responsibility then shifts to ensuring that the back-end economics are not wasteful or broken.

One category at a time, we need to get the stock deployed cogently, the organized play (where applicable) scheduled and running effectively, and then the marketing underway.  The brand impression has to bring people in knowing they will find things that surprise and delight them.  And when that is happening every day, we will know the time has come to resume the branch expansions.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

September Sun, October Rust

Okay, I've put upon you long enough.  Thank you for reading weeks upon weeks of "DSG's big move" coverage here on The Backstage Pass.  And if you skipped the articles as soon as you saw my increasingly cryptic titles?  You missed all the juicy dirt and gossip, but it's too late to go back and read it all, as I've edited out the best parts.

Time to get back to what's happening in the greater comic and hobby game industry, and rather than spend a few kilowords on a single item, I'm going to do a quick round-up of assorted things that happened in September and October (so far) that caught my incredibly limited spare attention during that time.
Peter Steele, 1962-2010, official mascot of October
September and October have been the blessed Autumn Gothic Relief for game stores everywhere for years now, mostly owing to the arrival of the new Magic Standard environment and a brand-new stand-alone expansion to kick it off.  Not so this year apparently.  The new Magic set, the wildly well-received pirate-and-dinosaur romp "Ixalan," has sold at par for my two stores but I'm being told has seen tepid response for many other retailers.  Some peers and I have been fiddling around with something of a nationwide store closures list.  That list grew noticeably these last six weeks or so, and looks poised to grow further.

What happened?  Reasonable people are observing as we go and trying to draw meaningful conclusions.  It appears to be some combination of booster boxes being available for a few bucks over wholesale on Massdrop and elsewhere, the glut of product that is bringing us seven booster releases in 2017, there being too many stores fighting over a pie that's not growing as fast as the store coverage count, the ordinary time and tide of the market, and whatever other question mark reason you like.  As I've mentioned before here, don't discount the calendar: Stores that opened in boom times in the fall of 2015 and 2016 are now hitting the rent escalator months in their lease, and are only now discovering they left too much money on the table, most of it in the form of discounts to the hardest edge of their customer base.  Their business framework is unsustainable, and they don't have time to fix it before they drop their transmissions at redline.

While I'm not seeing the bottom fall out locally, I am seeing that worrisome overall trend line.  Khans of Tarkir was the most successful product in the history of Desert Sky Games.  Battle for Zendikar started stronger than Khans but cliffed and never got back that level of momentum.  Kaladesh did decent business but was well below that pace, though I also attribute some of that to local competition dumping boxes to gain market share at the time.  Ixalan is a whisker better than Kaladesh was, and in any case is not making us nearly as healthy and happy as Khans did.  These holidays are going to be built on the back of other products, from video games to board games to comics and gifts.

In a world where we didn't raise our own performance ceiling a mile into the sky with a gigantic new facility, I would be moving away from Magic with vigor right now.  It appears many stores that had been built on the Magic economy in the first place are finding that there isn't enough protein elsewhere on their plate to continue.  Where will the bloodbath end?  We shall see.

Last year, Games Workshop made big news by ending its board game license with Fantasy Flight Games.  Some of those titles were among the better sellers for us, including Fury of Dracula and the Conquest LCG.  There were some high-profile games that fell victim to the pre-Asmodee dumping syndrome that typified FFG at the time, such as Relic and Forbidden Stars.  We were sorry to see those all go out of print as there was broad demand by this time last year.

Nottingham had a plan, however.  Perhaps it was Fantasy Flight pushing ever more into miniatures, perhaps it was other reasons, but they apparently wanted to give it a go with a different licensee.  That licensee was just announced, and lo and behold, it's WizKids!  Long known for HeroClix, WizKids's recent success has been most visible for us in the world of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures.  Their prepainted collectible minis had always done well, but their unpainted Nolzur's and Deep Cuts figures have performed off-the-charts great.  That raises the question of why Games Workshop needs WizKids, though, because Gee-dub seems handily able to manufacture plastic figurines.

In the intervening time, something happened that may answer this question.  Zev Schlesinger, namesake of Z-Man Games (now an Asmodee property), joined WizKids to develop board game content.  The ensuing product has been hit-or-miss, with high production values but middling results overall.  It's a similar place to where AEG and Iello have been for a while, and each of them ended up producing some great evergreens amongst the misses.  If we can expect to see the same out of WizKids, the Games Workshop license makes a lot more sense.  Warhammer is a gold-plated license with a devoted following.  A strong board game product in the Warhammer universe should be a cash cow up and down the sales channel.

In the board game world, we're seeing more and more top-tier titles released with a special "brick-and-mortar first" or other similar accommodation to get the game circulating in meatspace before the presumed hordes of online buyers procure it in their usual manner.  (We're assured by knowledgeable folks that these hordes are not as massive as the hordelings believe.)  In any case, mostly the release arrangements are working.  Dark Souls and Mountains of Madness both did well for us.  Clank In Space! is up soon and if it performs anything like its predecessor Clank!, it will be fine.  Meanwhile Codenames Disney busted out of the gate like a dart, very quickly attracting mainstream visits and purchases.  I don't think there is a substantial market difference less than ten miles from my previous spot in Gilbert, where board games perpetually struggled.  I think it has more to do with being able to open with a lot of product already visible and winning some first impressions that we lost last time around by opening as Just a Magic Store (Tm).

Speaking of which, and I won't dwell on Magic much longer in this space: Wizards of the Coast changed Magic's logo drastically for the game's 25th anniversary, and as you might imagine, the masses instantly decided they hated it, as they hate all change.  I like the logo, as it's sharp and modern and stands well off the page or screen.  I've heard a fair bit of agreement from those who have taken the time to give it more than a cursory glance.  The new logo will debut on product packaging with the spring's Dominaria expansion.

The other reason I bring that logo up is that it's the trade dress for Magic Arena, the new digital offering of MTG that is Hasbro's latest attempt to build their own Hearthstone.  And that's an inevitable development, but one I still cannot like.   Hearthstone exists in a world that doesn't need physical retail stores.  Know how we talk about how we're making hay while the sun shines and there's a trend toward hybrid deployments and so on?  Well, Hearthstone is basically designed to monetize players while offering virtually no revenue conduit to any third party they don't have to.  In terms of the FLGS, the only ones that realistically stand any benefit are those that are already far on the cafe end of the spectrum, and that's treacherous space.  A typical small specialty retailer has virtually nothing to gain and general entertainment dollars to lose by supporting Hearthstone and its organized play gimmick, "Fireside Gatherings."  Firesides are a swell thing to have at coffee shops or campus union buildings or what have you, but FLGSes hosting them are toying with peril.  I have been asked multiple times to do so and it's a hard pass, and will remain a hard pass.  If you like Hearthstone, that's fine, go play it.  But it's incompatible with my business, plain and simple, so it's never going to be supported for as long as there's no sustainable monetization structure for us.  And unfortunately, that's where Hasbro wants to take Magic.  And can you blame them?  They'd get to write off the mostly horrible and unprofessional independent retailer channel ever after.

We got let into the Force Friday party this time!  Small stores had to order blind knowing only that it was a Star Wars license item from Fantasy Flight.  The online brain trust had it narrowed down quickly enough to some sort of The Last Jedi-branded core set for either X-Wing, Destiny, or a new game.  Turns out it was Destiny.  Alas, late in the game the exclusive distributor was made to deliver the game on the day of rather than in advance of Force Friday, so a great many of our customers bought their copies at midnight at Target instead of from us.  But it's a decent product, an evergreen SKU, and one I need to have in stock for as long as Destiny is a thing, so aside from wanting to have cycled through more of it at this point, I'm OK with still having twenty-ish copies on hand.

I believe in the "soft sell" or "soft pitch," and I'm in an industry where most of the customers prefer that approach, so it's a very win-win situation.  My soft pitch is something like, "I've got a lot of really fun stuff and if you want to come check it out, that's cool, and even maybe buy some, that's also cool.  But seriously at least check it out.  I know you probably like at least something in this building as much as I do.  Possibly more."  It helps that I really do like a lot of what I sell, and my staff does also.  People can tell when you are or aren't into a thing.

Though usually I am the pitcher and not the pitch-ee, I do get pitched fairly constantly by vendors of every stripe, whether for products I already carry, products I don't currently carry that someone wishes I would so they could make money, or for business products and services in general.  And almost without variation the vendors who are pitching me are not pitching the soft sell.  There must be some sort of desperation scent in the atmosphere that I don't realize I am giving off, because I'm attracting them all these days, and this is by far the worst slate I've ever seen.

Let's count down the hits!

Third runner-up: 
A reseller of unlicensed comic-themed t-shirts came to the store when I was trying to get some time-sensitive work done off in a corner of the floor.  My manager is taught to screen such arrivals and phone calls, letting them know the owner doesn't take calls or in-store meetings and the best way to reach me was by e-mail.  However, this vendor spotted me and slid past the block, and interrupted my work to make his pitch.  So, colossally bad idea obviously.  At first I suppressed my autism recoil and answered, look, this is something we may look at eventually but we just moved and we're not in a position to add product lines any time soon, so no thanks.  I deliberately walked to a different part of the store and resumed work.  The guy apparently went to reengage and my manager stopped him with a stern "Don't."  Well, he heeded that warning and left his business card and a free sample shirt.  That exercise of good judgment is going to get him a return contact from me.  In 2018.  As opposed to never.

Second runner-up:
An entrepreneur more tone-deaf to today's business realities than most, has been sending a series of emails and messages pitching a Magic newsletter to stores for only $97 per month.  Not a typo.  Ninety-seven dollars.  And oh by the way there's already more community-generated Magic content than the world ever asked for, and in the social media age, a newsletter is quite possibly the most worthless means of delivering such content.  This isn't 1996.  Nobody is going to buy your 'zines, and rage against machines, you flagpole sitta.

First runner-up:
A vendor of statues and figurines called in and my manager mistook the call at first for a customer looking to sell us collectibles.  The caller was sufficiently vague that this was a legit engage on his part.  Anyway, once the guy made it clear he was a vendor, my manager deployed the screen block, explaining that I don't take calls or in-store meetings and he was welcome to e-mail me whatever he had.  The guy suddenly turned furious.  Cursed back at us, "such a bleep-bleeping waste of my time, thanks for nothing" and so on.  And now due to that vendor's discourteous treatment of my employee who was doing precisely what I taught him to do, I will never carry those products.

Most Unwelcome/Unprofessional Pitch:
I was at my desk and the store was busy so I took the call.  "Good evening, Desert Sky Games Chandler?"  A joking-sounded guy replied.  "Desert Sky?  So is this like an airline?"  He sounded a bit sarcastic but I gotta play it straight, I'm in the fun business after all.  "We're a game and comic store."  "So like video games?"  "Those too, but also tabletop games and card games."  "And you're called Desert Sky?"  So now I was getting annoyed, but I'm a pro at this, I kept it straight.  "That's us, what can I do for you?"  His response, naturally: "I need to talk to whoever is in charge of your merchant services and credit card processing..."

I really hope that call was recorded for quality and training purposes.